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tv   NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt  NBC  December 12, 2021 3:30pm-4:00pm PST

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>> hour interview with a factory owner. if you knew the weather was coming was there any thought to maybe suspending production? there are signs of hope. two workers found alive there. but the reality in so many towns across this state is unbearable. >> we'll have over a thousand homes that are just gone. >> we speak with the governor, coordinating the response. >> every person we locate that we thought was lost is a miracle. >> tonight the search for survivors and for answers. and how will so many rebuild after so much destruction? >> there are tears but there are also hugs and words of comfort from each other. >> this is nbc "nightly news" with kate snow. reporting tonight from mayfield, kentucky. good evening. it has now been almost 48 hours since the string of tornadoes tore across the middle
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of the country and we're now getting a better sense of just how widespread and catastrophic the physical damage is. you can see it all around me here and in the images from above town after town looks just like this with entire sections flattened. what we don't know yet is the full human toll, the official death count is at least 48 across five states but the governor of kentucky here believes his state alone will likely top 100 lost. the numbers coming out of individual towns are heart breaking as well. in bowling green, 11 dead. in breman 12. the governor said today he still holds out hope survivors will be found as are the family members of those missing from the candle factory near here. our team is spread out across the region but we begin in mayfield and the search for survivors. volunteers going door to door. >> anybody here? >> heavy equipment working all day long cleaning up on a massive scale. >> we have to tear down and rebuild. >> yeah.
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this is -- this town is going to look, not going to be the mayfield all of us knew. it is going to be a different town. >> reporter: on a cold, sunny sunday across kentucky people picked through the debris of their lives and at mayfield consumer products candle factory some good news today. the owner troy probst telling us saturday afternoon they rescued two workers after locating one of their cell phones. >> everybody is trying to call everybody and some of the debris is getting removed and i'm assuming that allows more signals to get through some of the rubble and different things. >> reporter: they reached someone in the pile of rubble? >> yes, somehow. >> reporter: but the company tells nbc news at least eight workers are deceased, nine unaccounted for. how many kids? >> between the two of us we have eight. >> reporter: she still can't find her boyfriend joe ward. they started working at the factory weeks ago trying to save up to build a house >> i don't know what to tell them because i don't know and not knowing is worse than
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knowing right now. he was within ten feet of me in that hallway. >> reporter: that was the last time you saw him? >> i have not seen him since. >> reporter: she is trying to stay strong for her kids. >> i love you so much. >> i love you, too. >> reporter: denise cunningham hasn't eaten or slept much since friday. she called her son after the tornado hit and a co-worker answered. >> they're all screaming for help and all she could tell me was that my son told me he loved me. he didn't think he was going to make it. >> reporter: 110 people were inside the factory that night. if you knew the weather was coming was there any thought to maybe suspending production? >> in hindsight of course. all of us would do something differently because you know the path the storm takes. but by the time you know that's going to come, it is such a gamble to say leave. because the last thing you do, it says don't get in your car. >> reporter: workers say there were warnings around 7:30 that night but no tornado. some employees left. edward stubblefield says he thinks his
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cousins had to stay. >> had to be. had to be. if not, you lose your job. >> reporter: some families saying the factory should never have been open that night. >> they knew it was coming and they kept those poor people in that #factory working. i am more than angry. i think they should be held accountable for everything that has happened. there was plenty of warning. >> reporter: while we were in the middle of that piece i just got a message from autumn that, unfortunately, joe, her boyfriend, did not make it. our thoughts are with that family. more than two hours east of here in the college town of bowling green, kentucky nearly a dozen people are dead and hundreds of homes destroyed there. kathy park is there. >> reporter: tonight entire neighborhoods in bowling green, kentucky unrecognizable. the second floor apartment completely blown away by the tornado with jennifer lock still inside. >> i heard the train coming. they said it sounds like a freight train.
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i heard the train coming and hunkered down and stayed there a little bit until it passed and then i was stuck, trapped in my bedroom for two hours until they came. >> reporter: christopher hujins is combing through pieces of his brother's home. it flew off its foundation and came crashing down. so your brother and his wife were inside the bathroom when literally the house was lifted off the foundation. >> the entire house was lifted off the foundation. >> reporter: in hard hit warren county the death toll is at 11 and climbing. hundreds of homes and businesses flattened as a powerful tornado unleashed winds of 150 miles per hour. it traveled so fast this couple barely made it out alive. family members showing us how they survived. >> his dad was actually in this room right here trying to get out as well and as he got up off of the couch, the whole wall just collapsed on him. >> reporter: in nearby western kentucky university this live camera may have captured the moment
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the tornado made impact. the school canceled graduation ceremonies saturday administrators saying every student on campus stayed safe from the storm but a young man died while at home off campus. today the mayor of bowling green sharing a grim assessment on the road ahead. >> there's a lot more that has to happen. it is going to be a while before we pull ourselves out of this. it is a major catastrophe. >> reporter: the storm hitting hard and moving out in minutes, leaving behind a massive cleanup ahead. >> i never expected to see anything like this. >> reporter: a community still in shock but jumping into action to help. >> kathy joins us now from bowling green. how is the community handling the disaster, kathy? >> reporter: well, kate, even if folks haven't been directly impacted by the tornado they want to help. many residents are coming in from near and far, volunteering to pick up the pieces, begin the rebuilding process, even offering food and supplies to anyone who needs it.
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kate? >> kathy, thank you. the kentucky governor andy bashear asked the federal government for a major disaster declaration today to free up more resources to help. i spoke with the governor late today. how are you holding up? >> it's hard. you go from grief to focusing on how to move forward to shock and then we all go through that multiple times. >> reporter: this is personal for you. you mentioned your father. >> yes. >> reporter: lives in one of the cities hardest hit? >> my father is from dawson springs. half the town is gone. i spent eight hours trying to get a cousin on the line. thankfully, she is there but you go down to muhlenberg county where i have an uncle who lost two cousins, a town of 140 people that lost about ten. and there isn't a structure standing. it is hard to describe and it is painful. >> reporter: what do
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you need? what are you focusing on? >> we continue to want everybody's prayers. every person we locate that we thought was lost is a miracle. everyone we're still able to rescue. we'd also like people to commit not just to support when you can see the devastation. this is going to take years, years to rebuild here. and people are going to need our help moving forward. >> reporter: do you think there could be more survivors in this town and other towns? >> we hope. we've been without cell service until recently, which has made search and rescue difficult. we've augmented how many people we have out there looking. every time we locate someone that has otherwise been missing is an amazing moment. we are praying for every miracle we can find. >> reporter: we are in the winter season. how do you keep everyone going? it is cold, right? there are so many things happening at once. people are homeless. >> we're tough. we are resilient people. we're also feeling the love from this entire country. we can't thank the people out there enough. we know they're with
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us and we're really grateful. >> reporter: governor, thank you so much. >> thank you. and thanks to the people of america. our people here feel your love. another major story from the storm the amazon warehouse in illinois that took a direct hit. at least six people were killed there. morgan chesky is there. what's the latest? >> reporter: good evening. today officials shared they do not believe there are any other employees still missing inside the pile of rubble. this tornado left behind. that said, they are continuing the pains taking process of removing each piece of debris as carefully as possible just in case there is someone else. and officials also shared the names and ages of the six workers who were killed when the tornado struck late friday and also we're learning about the moments prior to its arrival. hearing that two groups of employees sheltered in various parts of the building but when the tornado struck that southern edge of this warehouse, that's where one group of employees were. kate?
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>> all right. morgan, thank you. the tornado that hit here in mayfield may have torn across more land than any other tornado ever in this country. at least 200 miles maybe more. scientists are on the ground tracing its path but there are questions tonight about why such a big tornado outbreak happened so late in the season. >> reporter: tonight scientists working to understand this monster tornado. we slowed down and froze the video so you can get a better look at how huge it was, here lit up by lightning. just one of many rare and powerful december twisters that ripped through six states across the south and midwest overnight on friday, leveling nearly everything in its path. >> you really get the path. >> reporter: residents describing the overwhelming force. >> i heard a loud, loud noise, like a lot of trains coming toward you. like metal noise. like a lot of metal on
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top of each other. >> crunching, crashing, twisting, roaring. i thought we were going to die. >> reporter: oh, my god. >> i thought this was it. >> reporter: those reactions not surprising. the tornado lifted debris an astonishing 30,000 feet in the air. among the most intense ever recorded. why was it so strong? one reason, the unseasonally warm temperatures. >> it was in the 80s all across mississippi on friday setting record highs and the air flowed right into the main low pressure center there and in turn spawned the two really bad storms. >> reporter: scientists say the tornado's path and just how far it traveled was also unusual. >> what we do know is that the signature of the tornado was evident on radar for more than 200 miles. that alone is incredible. only a few storms have been in that league. >> reporter: and now new concerns that an area commonly called tornado alley may be
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shifting. >> reporter: decades ago they tended to be texas, oklahoma, kansas. now the most damaging tornadoes are often in places like mississippi, tennessee, arkansas, alabama. that is a distinct change over several decades. >> reporter: a terrifying trend that some worry could mean a new kind of normal. >> it'll never be the same. >> reporter: i understand the national weather service has experts in the region now trying to gather data about tornadoes. >> reporter: yeah, kate. that's right. we ran into them surveying the damage in this neighborhood looking at dozens of indicators to better understand the storm and why it was so destructive. they tell us the winds here in bowling green got up to about 155 miles per hour. kate? >> we can only hope it helps for next time if there is one. dasha, thank you. still ahead we'll turn to the covid pandemic and hospitals turn to the covid pandemic and hospitals now short staffeamidd ♪ ♪
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>> reporter: a similar story in michigan where some hospitals are reporting their worst surges since the start of the pandemic. >> it is so draining and so difficult. i honestly dread coming to work. >> reporter: today the u.s. nearing a grim milestone, 800,000 deaths from covid-19. that's more people than the population of north dakota. we have more deaths this year with the vaccines available than last year. why do you think that's the case? >> the majority of deaths have occurred in unvaccinated individuals and unfortunately we also saw 2021 with the arrival of a much more transmissible variant. >> reporter: it's been one year since the first doses of vaccine rolled out. flash forward and today 72% of adults are fully vaccinated. a definition that does not include booster shots. though dr. anthony fauci telling abc news they're constantly re-evaluating. >> if you want to be optimally protected you really should get a booster. >> reporter: the majority of reported omicron cases in the u.s. hit the vaccinated but several studies suggest a
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booster shot offers improved protection against the new variant. still, it is the delta variant fueling a rise if cases across the country. over the past two weeks numbers spiking more than 100% in rhode island and illinois. health experts say that doesn't mean traveling this holiday season is out of the question. >> number one, make sure as many people are up to date with boosters. number two, have access to testing. >> reporter: the keys to a festive and safe holiday. nbc news. we're beak in a moment with the next frontier in the race to find a cure for cancer. and from here in kentucky on this sunday, ho the w there is no place like home y'all! and these people know that there is no place like wayfair. i never thought i'd buy a pink velvet sofa, but when i saw it, i was like 'ah'. and then i sat on it, and i was like 'ooh'. ooh! stylish and napable. okay now. i can relate to this one. i'm a working mom with three boys. [ yelling ] wayfair is my therapy.
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we have two notable deaths to tell you about tonight. anne rice the author of "interview with a vampire" has died at the age of 80. born in new orleans where many of her stories took place her books sold more than 150 million copies and were often adapted for the screen. we've also learned vicente fernandez has died at the age of 81. he appeared in more than 35 movies, won three grammys, eight latin grammys, and has a star on the hollywood walk of fame. tonight we are kicking off a week-long series of reports here at nbc looking at efforts to cure cancer. it was 50 years ago this month that the u.s. government made a bold commitment to eradicate a disease that has touched the lives of just about all of us. here is harry smith on how the search for a cure has progressed and where it's headed. >> the time has come in america when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom
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and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. [ applause ] >> richard nixon, his state of the union address, 1971, announcing the u.s. was going after cancer in a big way. >> let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal. >> reporter: remarkably the last television commercial touting the joys of cigarette smoking had aired just weeks before. and until the 970s the word "cancer" was rarely uttered, said aloud. >> it was forbidden. did people 50, 60 years ago think cancer was contagious? >> that was part of the reason but i think also such a bad diagnosis with such a terrible prognosis it was nothing anyone wanted to admit having because it sounded like a death sentence. >> the head of the national cancer institute says fresh from some victories over childhood leukemia the medical community at the time believed curing cancer was within reach. the idea was as bold
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as it was naive. >> we'll be done with this in five or ten or 15 years. was that the belief? >> i think even some of the leading cancer scientists of the time said, you know, maybe we can -- 1971, maybe we can have a cure for cancer by the nation's bicentennial 1976. >> reporter: cures no but treatment breakthroughs aplenty. >> my name is vanessa and i am a breast cancer survivor. >> if this was 50 years ago i probably would have lost my life. >> early detection saved my life. >> reporter: awareness has changed, too. we are bombarded with reminders. celebrities readily talk about their diagnosis and treatment. yes, cancer is out of the closet. and the result? early detection saves lives. and yet -- >> cancer still kills 600,000 americans each year. it is still a global sourj. it's a tremendously expensive disease as i mentioned. for anyone who experienced this personally it is a tragedy at the family
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level. there is a lot more to do. >> reporter: much more especially in minority and under served communities where diagnosis often comes 50 years into the future where would we be vis-a-vis cancer? >> we'll have a cancer become less common, less deadly, and when patients do have it they will have better outcomes. we'll turn it into more of a chronic disease. >> wouldn't that be something? >> reporter: harry smith, nbc news, new york. when we come back, york. when we come back, nding hope andfi your kindness outshines your highs and lows. your strength can outlast any bad day. because you are greater than your bipolar i, and you can help take control of your symptoms - and ask about vraylar. some medicines only treat the lows or highs, once-daily vraylar is proven to treat depressive, acute manic, and mixed episodes of bipolar i in adults. full-spectrum relief for all bipolar i symptoms. elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis
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overnight but one thing remains constant on this sunday. the importance of faith for this community. ♪ joyful and triumphant ♪ >> reporter: for the faithful here in mayfield, kentucky, prayer is healing. ♪ oh, come ye ♪ >> we will simply pull together and find ways to grieve, celebrate, locate, and to care. >> reporter: and so today nearby their church without walls, the weary summoned the strength to gather. this is what first christian church used to look like. here's what stands today. the building unsafe. but its congregation undeterred. >> we're resilient. we'll get there. >> reporter: near what is left of what was first baptist church, a chance to grieve, cry, and console. and in the face of so much tragedy, the spirit of unity stands strong. >> this really is just a building. i mean, this is just the church building. it is where the church comes to worship. we love it.
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we're proud of it. but it's not the church. the church is the people. >> reporter: across mayfield at one of the holiest times of the year, other houses of worship destroyed, too. but even in the very darkest of times in this city love and unity remain very much alive. lighting the way for the difficult journey ahead. >> we feel your prayers. continue to keep us in your prayers. and lift us up as we make decisions and move forward. >> seeing so many people holding each other up here. that is nbc "nightly news" on this sunday. lester holt will be with you from here in kentucky tomorrow. i'm kate snow for all of us at nbc news stay safe and have a great night. ♪ joyful and
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